Summit seniors scrap in season finale loss at Bennett
Tigers coach says merely playing was ’the accomplishment’
DILLON — Summit High School football head coach James Wagner’s message to his Tigers (1-4) when they were together for one final time after their 36-16 loss to Bennett (5-2) on Saturday may have sounded cliche to outside ears. Still, after a season when every element of normalcy has been thrown out the window, for him it was the most genuine thing he could say.
Second-year head coach Wagner said finishing this season together as a team was an accomplishment in and of itself.
“I told each and every one of those kids, those guys, being on field alone today made them winners,” Wagner said. “Because the struggle of what this season was, I’m proud of them to commit — stay committed — and continue to grow as a team through the struggle. It speaks volumes.”
Out on Colorado’s Eastern Plains at Bennett High School, novel coronavirus regulations prevented parents, family, friends and media personnel from attending Summit’s season-ending loss to the Bennett Tigers.
Summit coaches and players were out there with no one else but each other. They had followed county health protocols at the Summit High School practice field for months, never knowing what tomorrow would bring to the team. Despite district- and county-imposed public health decisions that canceled three Summit games, changed other contests and prevented Summit from ever having a chance to play their way into the state playoff postseason, they were on the field, playing the game they love.
Though they lost, they were unified as a team.
On Friday, the day before his final game as a Summit Tiger, senior captain quarterback Cam Kalaf said what he hoped to see on Saturday at Bennett was his team “coming together at the last moment, and sharing that last moment before we take off all our pads.
“That one last big family ’hoorah,’ in a sense. Sure, we want to see that scoreboard have the Tigers be up,” the quarterback continued, “to have our defense execute well, our offense execute well — special teams as well. But just that last family aspect of the game, that’s what I’d really like to see.”
Though the Tigers lost by 20 Saturday, Summit scraped and clawed through the first half. The team was able to get the score to 8-6 against a physical Bennett team on a 10-yard Kalaf passing touchdown on a slant route to junior captain Aidan Collins.
Bennett pulled away further later in the first half when Wagner wanted to have the Tigers go for broke early on. On their own 35-yard-line, Wagner opted to go for it on the fourth down. But Bennett swallowed Summit whole on a double A-gap blitz to set up a short field and score — extending their lead to multiple scores.
In the second half, Summit found more success defending the simple, stout, Bennett rushing attack, corralling more runs off tackle and stuffing more of the opposition’s guard-and-tackle pulls into gaps. The Tigers added on points via a Jaden Smith 32-yard field goal and a 15-yard quarterback sweep run from Kalaf to cap his high school career.
In the end, Bennett’s tight end-heavy rushing attack chewed up too much clock for Summit to contend for a win.
Still at the end of the game, Wagner said he couldn’t be more proud of this group of young men.
“Our seniors played really well, definitely stepped up,” Wagner said. “And Cameron (Kalaf) was such a leader across the board, even on defense. We have three turnovers in the first half. Cam rotated in and out at outside linebacker on the defensive side of the ball and caused a fumble. And (senior captain) Kobe Cortright caused two fumbles. The kids played their butts off. It was a good day for them, even if I wish the scoreboard would have ended up differently.”
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